Editor’s Note II: Ivan’s closed sometime in 2004 and has been replaced by La Taberna Tapatia.
Editor’s Note: if you’ve seen Ivan’s boarded up lately, it’s still open. Some yahoo that was distracted by the roadwork along Roscoe lost control of their car and plowed into the front door. I don’t know if anyone was hurt, but the front door sure as hell didn’t make it. This is strangely similar to what happened at the Green Door Tavern. Ivan’s has since replaced the door with a temporary one that looks like it would be better off attached to a mobile home, the post has been replace by a thick plank of wood, and everything appears to be slowly returning to normal. Cheers to no more destruction!
Ivan’s Lounge is a bar with a split personality. Formerly a grungy corner tavern with glass block windows and a drop ceiling, Ivan’s was transformed in 1997 into a swanky den. The older regulars have moved on and the bar is now frequented by a mix of younger local types, club hoppers and people waiting to get a table at the Mexican joint across the street.
Ivan’s is located at the corner of Ashland and Roscoe, across from Cafe el Tapatio. The two establishments are under the same ownership, and you’ll find complimentary Mexican found available at Ivan’s along with several patrons waiting for their table. When your table’s ready, they’ll send over a host to collect you.
Ivan’s large glass windows overlooking a spectacular view of the First Chicago parking lot, a neon Summit Ale sign, and a bright blue and gold exterior beckon you in for a cocktail. When you walk in, you’ll probably soon meet the bar’s pooch – just try not to step on his poor feet. The bar with its mirrored backing, large plant decorated with red string lights, and orange lights hanging above it is to your left, stands opposite a long black vinyl banquette and cocktail tables. White votive candles proliferate, as does funky red wallpaper adorned with keyboards, top hats, canes, and records (a holdover from the tavern’s early days). Ivan’s exposed brick walls in front are decorated with local artwork and its windows with black velvet drapes. The back offers more tables, artwork and two large crescent-shaped, black vinyl booths of the Tiny Lounge variety. Ivan’s also has a very nice, ornate dark green tin ceiling.
Walk between the booths and you will come to Ivan’s bathrooms. The women’s bathroom offers free mints, tampons and several rolls of toilet paper. Even though the men’s has a urinal and a pot, the door is annoyingly latched shut when someone goes in there just like at the Underground Lounge. One time, when I was coming out of the men’s room, I started to slide curiously across the floor. When I looked down, I saw that my slippage was due to a large puddle of vomit created by a friend of mine who was there having a going away party. In his rush to get over and clean the mess, the bartender accidentally knocked over a chair with all our jackets on it right into the spew. The jacket that was on top was completely covered with zook and happened to belong to the girl that helped my friend into the bathroom to hold her head over the toilet. This good Samaritan was additionally rewarded by getting yakked by my barf-fountain friend.
As a holdover from its neighborhood tavern days, Ivan’s has a very nice yet un-loungey beer garden through the back door. This area is filled with green plastic chairs, red-painted wooden tables, a television in a wooden box to keep the elements at bay, brick walls with wrought iron railings, and old-fashioned lights. There is also a tiny back bar that offers beer bottles from a cooler. The beer garden continues Ivan’s plant theme. There are hanging plants, potted plants, evergreens growing through the cement floor, and ferns in the corner. Once a hidden gem only known by the privileged few, Ivan’s beer garden is now filled on the weekends and it can be difficult to find a seat. Day by day, Ivan’s is becoming more like Justin’s and Sheffield’s: bars that were great before they became overrun.
Ivan’s does not have a full-blown kitchen but does offer cold subs with chips and pizza. One time my sub came with a nice green splotch of mold, for which I was compensated with a fresh sub and a free drink. As far as “brew”-haha, Ivan’s has 10 beers on tap and many more in bottles. Ivan’s also offers a small selection of wine, homemade margaritas and martinis.
The crowd is somewhat difficult to peg. Ivan’s promotes itself more as a swanky lounge, but the beer garden attracts neighborhood types. As a result, you will see people dressed trendily come for the DJ and thumping dance music mix with blue jean and t-shirt clad locals. Fortunately, the atmosphere does not feel pretentious and let’s hope that doesn’t change. Ivan’s used to attract a somewhat rougher, seedier crowd. In the early 90’s, a friend of mine told me that his sister came for a drink and was propositioned to become a hooker. Apparently, the apartments upstairs were used for this type of unsavory “activity,” reminiscent of Gold Star and Southport Lanes. Ah, the good ol’ days.
Ivan’s evolution into an attractive cocktail venue is part of the Roscoe Village transformation, currently in progress, that has transformed much of Lincoln Avenue back into a bustling shopping and entertainment district. The Ashland corridor, running between Fullerton and Irving Park Road, will hopefully share the same future following its $10 million, 250 day improvement project. Hopefully, the rest of the block that Ivan’s is located on with its cracked, uneven sidewalks and eye-sore buildings will follow.
Even though Ivan’s may have a hard time knowing what it wants to be with its front room going for a trendy lounge feel and beer garden going for the beer-soaked crowd, it is still a good place to go. Ivan’s will especially cater well to all the new dwellers in the condominiums going up just beyond Let’s Pet Puppies and the Brown Line El tracks. With luck, Ivan’s will not turn into a mob scene when the new residents appear. Here’s to the future – cheers.